Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

From a rally on Saturday, AFT President Randi Weingarten '80 speaks to a crowd of graduate students.

March 29, 2017

AFT Considers Contesting Election Results After Alleged Code of Conduct Violations

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The American Federation of Teachers — the union with which Cornell Graduate Students United has affiliated — is considering contesting the results of the union recognition election due to alleged labor law violations by the University.

AFT published a statement Wednesday saying that it “questions the validity of the Cornell graduate union recognition election held this week” because “the administration committed a glaring swathe of labor law violations in the days leading up to and during the vote.”

The results of the election were ruled too close to call by the American Arbitration Association. In their counting of the ballots early Wednesday morning, 856 votes were cast in favor of CGSU and 919 were cast against. However, 81 challenge votes that are yet to be resolved rendered the results indeterminate.

“Cornell management sent a clear message in violation of the negotiated code of conduct and federal labor laws that the ends justify the means,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten ’80 in the release. “There should be no place for this kind of outright animus against colleagues in higher education. The administration has failed the entire Cornell community, and Cornell itself.”

In questioning the validity of the election, AFT claims that a pattern of administrative misconduct “chilled voters” and “polluted grad union election results,” particularly in the days leading up to and during the vote.

The misconduct AFT alleges constitute labor law violations that “compromised the ability of graduate students to make a free choice” in the election.

The University and CGSU agreed on a code of conduct for each party’s behavior both during the campaign process and during the election in a contract signed in May 2016 that aimed to ensure a free and fair election.

However, AFT contends that this code “was repeatedly violated by Cornell management.”

“As an alumna of the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, I want to say how deeply disappointed I am with the egregious conduct of the university,” Weingarten said. “Cornell flagrantly violated the spirit of both the code of conduct we negotiated and federal labor law.”

AFT specifically points to emails from the University sent in the midst of the voting process — communications that Weingarten said were sent “with the intention of chilling and intimidating voters.”

The night before the election, the administration sent a special edition announcement to students. The Ask a Dean portion of the announcement responded to a student asking where the University would get the money to pay for added benefits should a union form.

The response from Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth generated concern among union activists.

“All of these funds (external grants, and department and college budgets) are limited,” Knuth said in the response. “It is possible that significantly increased costs for these items could lead to reduced numbers of graduate students at Cornell, but faculty, departments, and colleges would need to make those decisions.”

The next day, graduate students received another email from the administration. Vice President of Human Resources Mary Opperman wrote to inform students that the University “received a report that a number of CGSU/AFT/NYSUT representatives have told eligible voters who don’t support the union not to vote” and that “the student making the report noted he felt threatened by the representatives,” the email read.

Another email sent that night by the University told graduate students that Cornell would cut healthcare costs during the next academic year — an issue that was central to CGSU’s campaign. This was a move that AFT believes served to “induce graduate students to vote against the union.”

For CGSU members, the administration’s actions further demonstrated the need for a union.

“There is a reason graduate workers are organizing all over the country, and that’s because unions are the only way to defend our rights and protect our research,” said Jane Glaubman, grad, in the release. “The administration’s actions show just how keen it is to deny us that power.”

The results of the union recognition will be determined within a month as the AAA works to resolve the validity of the challenge votes.